great things come in 3's
last night the lost onion was its bedrock four pieces: claire finley on bass, (first for a reason, and i'll tell you in a moment), carl johnson on guitar (in the middle for another reason, and you know the drill), and pete maclean on drums (listed last because the most important dramatic element comes always after the build-up, and, yup, we'll be getting to that, too). jen kearney, ironically enough, because she's the one always introducing the rest of the band onstage, becomes the piece that literally goes without saying--the songs are, after all, hers, and it's her vocals that you'll always recognize first whenever you hear anything they play, and you'll recognize that they're one of the tightest, best, and most rewarding musical experiences you can hear anywhere at any price, and free just makes the whole thing ridiculous. (every monday night at toad--i would not steer you wrong).
some music wahoo wrote about the band on his blog recently (i know!) and opined after bragging on a lot of what else goes on, that claire was clowning around as if that was her role in the band. (oh, if i only had a little dark interrogation room with a single bare light bulb under which to set him straight!!!) the first thought that strikes a person who has seen a half-dozen sets in three days, and has seen many times that number over the past three years, and has noticed the differences now that claire has joined the band, is that she is so much more than meets the amused, entertained and thoroughly satisfied eye. (and we haven't even begun to talk about how the ears feel).
claire once provided an interview in which she articulated why it is that she was drawn to playing the bass, and what it is about playing it in an ensemble that rewards her so much. i dearly wish i had saved the link so i could share it with you... she talked about how the bass connects the rest of the music, and all the other musicians on stage... (i know i'm butchering her original premise--i can only try my best not to lose it entirely). how through it she communicates with the entire band, and feels the joy of that place, and not the least need to stand out in front, or carry a lead... it was one of the most eye-opening and beautiful things i've ever read about music. beautiful...
and so it is that anyone who has seen the band evolve over the past few years can't help but notice: when carl takes the lead, and does that THING he does on his guitar, and the solo lifts you up and brings your heart up so you can FEEL it, and everything is so beautiful and so RIGHT, there is so often claire, leaning just enough so that her shoulder touches his... and you can FEEL the connection, and what it is that her playing and her presence gives the music... (i told you we'd get to carl, too ;-). i was blown away by the show last night, and it was all i could do not to run up on the stage to get closer to it all because claire was there, doing what she does, pulling it all together and making it MORE because she is there... (and, by god, but when she solos on their cover of erykah badu's "bag lady", you can hear a pin drop every time, right before the applause brings the house down, and it was so sweet and so perfect last night that you know that claire could lead every song she ever cared to--she's that talented--but she's chosen to be so much MORE than that). all a fan can do is say "thank you"... (and, not for nothing, but JKLO's cover of "bag lady" is one of those "more than the original" covers that needs to be heard--the only adjective i can find is "transcendent").
what can be said about a guitarist that is so ready and so on that he can rock a first set from its first notes like carl rocked last night's? from right behind the opening chords of jen's piano that introduced "gentle and precise", carl was so on that it was hard to understand how everything that had seemed so perfect and so un-surpass-able for two days prior was immediately taken somewhere beyond. the tone that carl coaxes from his guitar is at once so immediate, and, yet, also, so subtle, that it soars right through you, and when he puts it into that "beyond" place with his playing, it's hard to type about it later because the words just don't begin to match the music. and THEN he takes off through "wait for it", blows you away via "warm bath eyes", and sets off the fireworks that are burning beneath the "bossa nova stereo"... (the record version is resplendent, and live it's an entire new song--hear both!) and when jen sings "you learned, babe", you know you have. this is what music IS. and yet, during every other moment, when the guitar isn't out front, or even, seemingly, anywhere, you can see his hands, and then your ear connects to what he's fulfilling in the back there... the support he gives to everything--almost every moment of every song. it's what keyboards often do, if they can, but so rarely a guitar. not a rhythm part, or a harmony part, or a muted lead part--carl puts out so often the best part of every moment, even though you don't even realize you're hearing it... (yes, i'm a fan...)
there's no adequate way to "give the drummer some" and give as much as might be deserved, especially when the drummer is pete maclean, but i will suggest that when you've heard pete give the soul to "prime meridian" you'll begin to see a hint of the fuller truth. the recorded version, once again, is there to hear, and it's so good you might think it stands for what the song is, but i'm here to say that ALL the song is can't be discerned before you hear pete do it live, and do it right.
ever watch the giddy hosts trotting out to host saturday night live, and never fail to pantomime (another great jen song, but i digress) the last drum beat on the intro? it's just enough campy to be good every time, but we also can't help but be struck by how that BEAT takes life and inhabits a person who then simply becomes part of it, and one with it, and compelled to express it... they have to jump up, and come down on the close... they HAVE to... it's like that when pete puts the soul into "prime meridian". there's always claire there, too, perhaps unable to touch shoulders this time, but still THERE, too, putting that high voltage bass conduit directly to the source so we all get ALL of it, but it's pete puts it all inside of you, so that it has to come out.
look around the room sometime when he does it... count the number of people you can see who aren't leaning into every held beat, and moving to meet its climax. there won't be a one. it's remarkable. truly remarkable.
as must be, first, foremost and also last, jen kearney, whose music it is that provides the canvas onto which all these remarkable musicians paint their parts. she barely lets herself solo with her hands, so you have to be ready to catch every savory keyboard chop, but she puts it out there with her voice on every number and you can't miss that--that alto that soars to the top of every soprano flourish so effortlessly, that you forget that it's nothing that almost anyone else can do. (which is to say, it's something that almost no one else can do). over the weekend, one blown-away member of the audience heard joss stone in it. (i went to the web today to see what he meant, and found "fell in love with a boy", and he's not wrong). myself, i hear stevie wonder and aretha all rolled into salsa-grooved momentum that is all jen, and i know you'll just have to hear her to know what everyone is talking about. this woman can SING. close your eyes and be in love sing.
but it's her playing that i heard best last night, because it was one with that of claire, carl and pete, and it all was sooooo good.
great things come in 3's. and 4's. and, it should be reminded, 5's, because though mark mullins wasn't part of the sound last night, his horn takes the whole thing somewhere it can't possibly go without him. my companion on saturday afternoon remarked about how singular the experience becomes when his horn is there. something magical. you can't help but agree.
but i have to say, four has always been my lucky number, (it's a bobby orr thing), and i wasn't disappointed in the least with it last night. in fact, i was so pleased with it that i had yet another one of those "i'm the luckiest person on earth" moments all night long, and it was good. so good.
get yours too. mondays. toad. JKLO. or wherever music moves you.